You may have seen a brief mention of the Yala national park closure in September and October in my previous articles. I have not yet discussed the topic in-depth, nor I can find any comprehensive articles covering it on the internet. So I thought to fill this gap with this week Travellers Isle article.
If you have mistakenly booked a night or two in Yala for September/October or if you are simply gathering information to put together an itinerary for your Sri Lanka holiday, I think you will find this article very helpful.
Brief overview of Yala national park
Yala national park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Sri Lanka. Many visit it to see its leopards, but only a lucky few get to see them during their jeep safaris. Wild boars, Crocodiles, elephants, water buffalos, spotted deer, sambar deer, Sri Lankan junglefowl, rusty spotted cat, Sri Lankan sloth bear, jackals, and peacocks are some of the other animals that you can see in Yala.
The national park covers an area of 979 square kilometers (378 sq mi) and consists of five sections: Block 1, Block 2, Block 3, Block 4 and Block 5. Although all five sections of the Yala national park allow visitors, most jeep safaris take place in Block 1 as you have the best odds of spotting animals (including leopards) there.
The Yala national park is open for visitiors from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm, but it is best to visit it early in the morning (6.00 am to 9.00 am) and in the late afternoon (3.00 pm to 6.00 pm).
When and why Yala national park is closed for tourists
Yala national park is generally closed to the public from 1st of September to 15th of October, however, Yala Block 5 remains open during this period.
The main reason for this annual closure of Yala national park is the extremely dry weather conditions in the region during September and October. This allows the animals to freely roam around the national park looking for water as their regular water sources dry out from the drought. If the drought is severe in Yala, the authorities could extend the closure till the end of October.
Yala Block 5 has a large reservoir which fulfills the water needs of the animals in that section. Therefore, it remains open during the Yala national park closure in September and October.
Alternative national parks for a jeep safari in September and October
As mentioned earlier, almost the entire Yala national park is closed to the the public in September and the first half of October. You will be able to observe some animals (including leopards) in Yala Block 5, but there are better national parks to visit during this time period.
1. Udawalawe national park
You can easily replace your safari in Yala national park with one in Udawalawe national park without making any changes to the itinerary, as both national parks can be scheduled after your stop in Ella (or Nuwara Eliya). Compare “Sri Lanka Luxury Honeymoon” with “Sri Lanka culture trip”
The highlight of the Udawalawe national park is its elephants, but you will aslo be able to observe water buffalos, peacocks, crocodiles, and spotted deer during your jeep safari.
2. Minneriya national park
If you are spending a few nights in Sigiriya or Dambulla, you may visit Minneriya national park as an alternative to Yala national park. It is the best national park for observing wild elephants in Sri Lanka. During June to September, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of elephants gathering in this beautiful national park. However, it is not as diverse as Yala or Udawalawe national park.
If you would like to see how Minneriya national park fits into an itinerary, please refer to our itinerary “Sri Lanka with toddlers”.
3. Wilpattuwa national park
Wilpattu national park is another great alternative for Yala national park. It is the second-best national park for observing leopards in Sri Lanka.
In addition to leopards, you will be able to observe elephants, sambar deer, spotted deer, wild boars, sloth bears, Sri Lankan junglefowl, and peacocks in Wilpattu national park. Spotting these animals can be a little more difficult in Wilpattu national park compared to Yala national park as its forest cover is very thick.
If you are curious to see how Wilpattu national park fits into an itinerary, please refer to our itinerary “Sri Lanka in 3 weeks”.
What to do if you have already booked hotel in Yala for September / October
If you have already booked a hotel in Yala for September or October. and if you cannot cancel it without paying a cancellation fee, do not worry about it too much. You can still observe decent number of animals by visiting Yala Block 5 or Lunugamvehera National Park.
We have arranged jeep safaris in Yala Block 5 and Lunugamvehera National Park for guests who disliked the crowds in Yala national park. Some of them even saw leopards during their jeep safaris in Yala Block 5 and Lunugamvehera National Park.
I hope this article answers all your questions related to Yala national park closure. Please drop us a message or leave a comment, if you have any questions.
To summarize, it is best to avoid Yala national park during the period 1st of September to 15th of October, as almost the entire national park is closed during this period. If you mistakenly booked a hotel in Yala during these days, you may still enjoy a jeep safari in Yala Block 5 or Lunugamvehera National park.
Happy travels !